Plant Bomb Kills More Than Boston, But It's One of Ours
By William Boardman
West Fertilizer Co. explosion by AP
Does Homeland Security Apply to The Whole Homeland?
Boston's bombings have brought out all kinds of conspiracy theory and bigoted reactions, even though nobody knows anything with much certainty yet. The West Fertilizer Company explosion on April 17 resulted from an actual, American conspiracy of a very familiar sort, a conspiracy of deliberate corporate denial or deceit -- for an example, think about tobacco companies -- combined with government inaction.
When an explosion in Texas kills an as yet uncertain number of people, leveling almost half the town, that's just as sad as the Boston event for those directly involved, but it doesn't make as compelling television. And it doesn't make compelling politics.
The northeast Texas town of West, population 2,800 or so, overwhelmingly white, mostly of Czech descent, was largely unknown to its fellow citizens until its fertilizer storage and processing plant blew up, after burning for about half an hour, due to currently unknown causes.
The explosion in West registered 2.1 on the Richter scale, much more powerful than the Boston bombs that didn't register as earthquakes at all. The explosion in West killed more people, injured more people, and destroyed much more property than the bombs in Boston, where property damage was negligible, less than a serious storm.
Ten Times as Many Runners in Boston as Residents in West, Texas
Almost ten times as many people run in the Boston Marathon as live in West, Texas. The Boston event draws about half a million spectators to a city of 625,000, numbers that dwarf the Texas town that is home to little more than one one-hundredth of one per cent of the total Texas population of more than 26 million.
The explosion in West, Texas, was so powerful it blew out windows two miles away. People heard it for miles, and some felt it as much as a hundred miles away. It destroyed perhaps more than a third of the town, including a school (empty) and a retirement home (133 residents). Railroad tracks were destroyed some distance from the blast, which pushed the closer rail across the ties against the farther rail.
Some sense of the intensity and unexpectedness of the explosion is captured in short cellphone videos, including one taken by a father in his vehicle with his daughter, watching as the West Fertilizer Co. burned. Then the blast overwhelms the camera, making the picture indecipherable even as the daughter clearly yell to her father, "Please get out of here! Please get out of here!"
Unlike an unpredictable and uncontrollable terrorist bomb, a fertilizer plant explosion is totally predictable and nearly controllable. Everyone knows fertilizers can be made into bombs. That was a fertilizer bomb that destroyed the Murrah federal building in Oklahoma City in 1995. Fertilizer plants, like the one that burned in Bryan, Texas, in 2009, have been a well-known danger for almost a century.
West Fertilizer Wasn't Much Regulated By Anyone
Known danger isn't necessarily a danger attended to, as the Wall Street Journal reports: